On colour, on sex: Formula E must outshine its prejudiced older brother

The face of Formula 1 remains peculiarly populated by white males, from the racing teams to the media personalities that schmooze them. Sky’s pundits nearly all fit that bracket, as do those at the BBC. In one recent TV segment, journalists from Britain’s biggest newspapers were interviewed for their opinions: and yes, they were all white males.

There are exceptions, but they are achingly few and far between. BBC’s F1 anchor Suzy Perry was only engaged this season, after Jake Humphries ditched the channel and its live coverage of the races had been severely curtailed. Sky’s Nathalie Pinkham doesn’t see much screen time. Monisha Kalternborn is the sole female team principal – that’s one in 11. Claire Williams remains deputy team principal. Minutes on camera compared to the white, male heads of Ferrari, McLaren, Lotus, Mercedes and Red Bull? Blink and you’ll miss them.

Embarrassingly, when Gill Jones, head of Red Bull’s trackside electronics, collected the team’s trophy on the podium in Bahrain, the commentators couldn’t name her. And in something of an own goal, driver Sebastian Vettel remarked that Jones’ role was to “look after the boys”.

Drivers fare little better in the diversity dearth. Lewis Hamilton is hailed as the sport’s first black driver: he is in fact mixed race. The number of female F1 drivers throughout the sport’s history can be counted on one hand; the last woman raced more than decades ago. The remaining drivers? White, male, mostly European, with a sprinkling of South Americans and Australians.

It’s not just F1, of course. The UK’s football premiere league remains woefully devoid of anyone other than white males in leadership positions, and women’s sports in the round lag a long way behind their male counterparts, in media coverage, in television time, in sponsorships, in pay.

But the racing series doesn’t help itself by highlighting gender and ethnic disparities with ‘grid girls’, female models recruited local to each race who pose in front of the cars and who line the victory procession to the podium.

And many F1 teams are based in the UK, a place in which 20% of citizens do not identify with the label “white British”. In an arena characterised by boundary breaking technological innovation, that F1 is so unrepresentative of modern multicultural society smacks of European colonialism of bygone days.

Formula E is positioning itself as the sport of the future. Forget tomorrow and forget the technology: if the new series is to relate to even contemporary culture, diversity in ethnicity and in sex must be welcomed, promoted, and treasured. The early indications look positive, with a team from China among the three so far confirmed. Will any of the teams consider allocating a seat to the talented upcoming female drivers who will find it tough to break into Formula 1? For the sport to really represent a modern world, it must first look at modern society.


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